Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dave Considers Suicide Bomber Alien To Him

The other Bruschetta Boy (the real one) has already posted below on DA's Violence in search of a cause: what a famous book tells us about terrorism. I think there's more to be said.
To get the jokes out of the way. Shorter DA: I've just come back from holiday, and I'm not au fait with recent developments. Let me give you my thoughts on a three-week old story, and by the way, I read a book.
Most readers will know that DA is a former lefty (I think he would not disagree with his; his own term these days, I suspect, would be 'moderate'). He was, as my colleague noted, a student radical, and one whose University Challenge team answered all questions with the name of a Marxist radical. His father was a Marxist economist. He studied history at Oxford and Manchester. One would think that, with such a background, he may have read a page or two of Karl Marx.

One word is particularly popular, not least with clergy: alienation. It's ubiquitous: you can add practically anything you like to "alienation" -- youth, race, poor schooling, poverty, unemployment, dislike of materialism, rejection of sexual mores -- yet it still absolutely fails to explain why this person will think it right to explode other people, and all the other “alienated” (by now comprising a good half of the population) won't.

First, why is the word 'alienation' ubiquitous? Might it be the influence of the Young Hegelians? Wikipedia defines alienation as:

It is considered by many that the atomism of modern society means that individuals have shallower relations with other people than they would in a traditional community. This, it is argued, leads to difficulties in understanding and adapting to each other's uniqueness (see normlessness). This is sometimes also referred to as commodification, emphasizing the compatibility of capitalism with alienation (a common theme of the early work of Karl Marx). ... Tönnies' "Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft" ("Community and Society") is about the loss of primary relationships such as family bonds in favor of goal oriented secondary relationships.

"Alienation" is a technical term, and one DA ought to be familiar with. DA seems to have taken the "Hmph! Stupid word" approach. Now he could have explained further. He could have said that he's outgrown his earlier Marxist stage, and that Marx may well have cast the word "alienation" about and would very likely have applied to underqualified, unemployed young men who form a disctinct sub-culture, and who can, with some reason, apply their lack of success to prejudice against them. He could have taken my favoured course which would be "Marx meant quite a lot by 'alienation' and he expected his use of the word to be interpreted along with the whole of his writing; these clergy (who are unlikely to be historical materialists) are using in a much looser way. Really, they'd like to say these young men are all a 'bit thing' aren't they? but they realise of course that there are no invites onto the 'Today' programme, or to write Guardian comment pieces if you use language like that. So they have appropriated Marxist jargon because it's polysyllabic and authoritative, but without actually understanding it."
Now if alienation is indeed meaningful, it may be possible to discover some correlation between it and examples of alienated behaviour. Perhaps not everyone who is alienated manifests this behaviour, but then as the number of cars rises, so do the number of accidents. Mere car ownership does not explain why this particular crash now, but it's a necessary condition.
(And now I frame it like that, I realise that it is possible to answer one of his commenter's points: "Why don't we [women] blow up a few trains and buses then?" But women may be manifesting disturbed behaviour (and as a consequence of alienation) -- anorexia, self-harm, bizarre body modification. There are Female Suicide Bombers. And Emily Wilding Davidon's action, while not murderous, looks pretty extreme to me. (Another reason is that women qua women may be excluded from power: Cherie Blair is (they say) brighter than Tony, but she's in Number 10, all the same. It's just that women don't get power by acting in concert with other women.)
Having thrown "alienation" out, DA then seems to bring it back in via Truman Capote.

Smith best fitted the profile of the alienated.

Before he dismisses it again:

Dick Hickock, however, seemed to have a very different experience. He was white, and came from a solid farming family. He was bright, too. If he was alienated, it would have had to have been for entirely different reasons.

(Note that the Marxist use of the term concentrates on present circumstances, rather than the ontogeny of a neurosis. People are alienated because they are powerful, in futile jobs, and not because Mommy didn't love them.)

The histories [of Smith and Hickock among others in a study in The American Journal of Psychiatry] revealed in each a severe degree of sexual inhibition. To all of them adult women were threatening creatures . . . All of them too had been concerned throughout their early years about being considered ‘sissies’.” And all had suffered “severe emotional deprivation in early life”.

Ellipsis in original. This makes me suspect that 'alienation' is the wrong term here. We've moved into something more like psychological profiling. The problem now is that the suspect in the airport terror case and the suicide bombers last July do not appear to fit this profile. Perhaps if there are detailed psychiatric reports when this is all over, we will see evidence that they do meet this criteria. But, personally, I doubt it.
DA concludes with what he thinks is really to blame:

[C]ertain preachers or certain organisations provide a space where blowing up planes can be made to seem like a wonderful act.

As if happens, I'm largely sympathetic to this. I think most young men, are for a time, as DA says of Richard Reid, "violence in search of a cause, not the other way around." We see a lot of this: whether in Old Firm matches, or the enthusiasm with which people enlisted for WWI, despite never having left their own counties in most cases, and probably knowing nothing about Belgium other than there was a ruck going on there. The real problem is where and how they channel their energies. I don't know the solution, but I hope it involves a lot more cricket and lot less mosque-going.
I realise that this has been over-long, and I did think about not posting it. However, as luck would have it, this afternoon I came across a member of the clergy using 'alienation' is just the loose dilettante way I described earlier in (of course) tehgrauniad: Soon after the bombings of 7/7 a group of Tory MPs wrote a joint letter to the Spectator, arguing that Muslim alienation was exacerbated by declining standards of public morality. (Spectator letters are behind a subscription wall. However the Beeb summarises.)
So where am I on this? I think there's something in 'alienation', but not as it's thrown around by the clergy. And I think there's something in personal history, too. And to reuse (again) my current favourite Nietzsche quote "Insanity in individuals is something rare — but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."
Where DA is on this, I'm less certain.

Three questions for Dave

Perhaps rhetorical, perhaps not, but since he is this week mostly talking about what recruits young men to extremist revolutionary causes, I'm more interested in something closer to home than "In Cold Blood" (which of course, had as one of its most important themes the fact that the murders were carried out without reason, rather than for a cause of global geopolitical significance).

Dave, when you disrupted that episode of University Challenge with your Eurocommunist mates:

1. What were you thinking about, really? As it seemed then, and as it seems now?

2. Did the global struggle of the working class have nothing, something, or everything to do with it, and if the answer isn't "nothing", then why do you think it was you, rather than other grammar school boys and sons of academics, that decided to devote so much of your life to it?

3. If things had been just a little bit different, if the YOung Communists' League had zigged rather than zagged, doctrinally, during the 1970s, are you really sure that given what you actually did do, broadly in the name of Communism, there is no possible world in which you might not have done something violent?

Just thinking out loud really.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Flipping Finger Flips, And Having Flipped, Moves On

Both our boys seem to be have taken holidays, leaving Aaro Watch with nothing to do. (I gather from the comments to Matthew Turner's post on the Euston Manifesto Labour Conference Meet-up that Nick Cohen was the only EM signatory who did not contribute to their recent flyer. And he's their best writer, too.) So, while they're away, let us to turn to another (former) lefty hawk.

What the hell was Christopher Hitchens thinking? I know a little about US television -- enough to know that this doesn't go down well, and in future producers and bookers will know him as 'that English guy who gave to finger to the audience.' And what provoked him? The audience clapped a point he disagreed with. Hitchens is a seasoned debater; in the past, he's been big enough to deal with hecklers. Losing your cool when the other guy scores a point is just idiotic.

And what was the point? Hitchens had said that Ahmadinejad believes "that the Messiah is about to come back" (which he does). Bill Maher interupted with "So does George Bush, by the way." (This is somewhat more controversial, Bush is Openly Religious, to a Point.)

This is Hitchens the muscular atheist. Wikipedia's entry on Hitchens says:

Although Hitchens finds himself defending Bush’s foreign policy, he has little admiration for the man himself and has criticized Bush's support of 'intelligent design'. As an anti-theist intellectual with a penchant for drinking, Hitchens was unimpressed by Bush's claim to have been "saved from drink by Jesus".

I find it very peculiar that he gets upset by a claim he could well have made himself. Consider this an open thread. Play nice.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Nick Cohen is in the bar

The Eustonites want people to share a glass of chardonnay with them (or maybe five or six glasses). From the text of the flyer:

Politics or Polenta? What are you here for?

Come & talk politics with the Euston Manifesto Group

Join us for a drink & a chat. Discuss left internationalism, human rights, global labour, two states , humanitarian intervention, the Euston Manifesto and what we should be doing next...

In the bar will be Nick Cohen, Gisela Stuart, Greg Pope, Lord Soley, Norman Geras, Eve Garrard,Alan Johnson & Jane Ashworth.

Two states? Inebriation and sobriety? Madness and sanity? Barbarism and civilization?

The text on the back explaining the EM is curious too:

This alternative left remembers the heritage of anti-Stalinism that kept critical discourse alive in the 1930s and 1940s.

Which translates as "some of us used to be Trots."

It also tells us (in the space of one side of A4)

We took differing views of the war in Iraq.

Around half of us opposed the Iraq war.


Many of us opposed the war in Iraq ....

Why on earth do they need to tell us that three times?

And there's a curious semi-reference to Amartya Sen:

We take seriously the idea that development is freedom.

Sen's title, of course, is "Development as Freedom". The claim that development simply is freedom is not one that he'd agree with for a moment.

If any Aarowatch reader fancies going down to "Beluga", 2 Mount Street, Manchester
on Wednesday 27th September from 7pm onwards, we'd be glad of a report.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Cohen Redemption

Hey, it's just a title. This week, like Nick, I'll be using journalistic cliches to sew together ideas which don't have anything in common.

I broke the story about the government's apparent hounding of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. But ever since reading Thursday's Guardian, I've been wondering if the FO wasn't provoked.

Look, Nick. You were either right or wrong about Craig Murray. (I think you were right.) We know he provoked his former employers, that doesn't matter. Here is Craig Murray's take on the 'airline plot'.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

Now Nick is also fond of bashing postmodernism. He claims he believes in truth. Craig Murray's claims are either true, or they are not. (Or some are not.)

Instead of looking Islamism in the eye, Murray declares that Bush and Blair longed to distract attention from their troubles and 'dodgy' intelligence about the alleged airport bombers 'gave them a chance'.

But 'Islamism' (a bloody stupid word, IMO) is irrelevant here. It the best the 'bad guys' can bring against us is teenagers with no bombs planning to blow up planes which they can't get on, I'M NOT SCARED. Nick looks the abyss in the eye, and like that chap in Nietzsche, it looks him right back.

Even as a conspiracy theorist, my former protege isn't up to much.

He's not a conspiracy theorist. He's not your protege either. Later, we have Nick on grade inflation:

Until that changes, we will have more media-literate drama queens than any sane society could possibly need, but not enough engineers, mathematicians and linguists.

Translated out of journalese, what 'media-literate drama queens' means is hacks who write hysterical columns with more holes in them than Gary Gilmore.

It is true that prisons are close to bursting and, in areas of full employment, it is also hard to find recruits to work in an unappealing job for an unattractive salary. Most are on around £22,000. Absurdly, while probation officers receive two years of training, prison officers are given a mere six weeks. Underpaid and underprepared, they are put alongside criminals who are experts in arts of corruption. What do you expect?

I am sure this is wrong on many levels. I thought that most prison officers were ex-army or ex-police. Six weeks to learn to bark "Lights out!" and turn keys in locks seems absurdly long to me. Here's the government's Learn Direct on probation officer salaries. Trainee probation officers can earn between £14,476 and £15,351 a year. Main grade probation officers earn around £20,804 to £27,973 a year. Criminal justice social workers can earn £17,000 to £28,000 a year. Prison officers also have prisons on their side: criminals are locked in, segregated, and watched. And most prisoners (as my friend who is a prison doctor tells me) are sad cases with serious drug problems. They may be nasty buggers, but they're rarely Professor Moriarty or Hannibal Lecter.
As too often, I don't take issue with Nick's headline "Drugs and corruption are rife in our prisons. We must clean them up". Also as too often, he doesn't suggest how (unless he means, legalise drugs, or at least ignore them in prison: but I think the reason the Home Office clamped down on drugs was the supply of heroin, which may make people passive, but can also be lethal). So as too often his column comes down to "Bad things are happening, and they shouldn't be".

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Talking Definitions with Dave

As Matthew Turner observed, blog comments on the Middle East "tend to be near-deranged". He finds examples through Oliver Kamm. Speaking of whom, I largely agree with him on the parasitic nature of blogs, though I've been reading the things since the days when they were more diary-like, or at least were opinions about things like computer games rather than link-to followed by criticism-of someone's else's opinon of computer games. Clearly, I'm going to do the parasitic thing here today; I hope that I don't become more deranged than usual in the process.

I disagree with Dave over Lebanon. I do think the Israeli response so far has been disproportionate; the strategies adopted have been the wrong ones; and that the effect will be counter-productive and this should not surprise anyone.

That Israel was entitled to act against a state-within-a-state that had effectively declared war against it, was not something I doubted for a moment.

It may surprise you to know that I agree with Dave here.

I suspect most readers of the JC [Jewish Chronicle] would agree with me on this. Yet so many other people in Britain seemed not to - and in the most violent and unreasonable terms, too. The question that I’m raising here is: "Why?"

I think what so many people in Britain disagree with was not "acting against" Hizbollah, but the way Israel acted against it. I even think Israel is correct to consider itself at war with Hizbollah, provided we agree that there are several ways of being "at war" with someone. We used to be "at war" with the IRA (though I'm not sure the term war was ever used by the British side). Even extreme provocation by the Provos didn't give us the right to roll tanks around Ulster and cut off the electricity. And Lebanon was supposed to be a sort of proto-Democratic state; they'd thrown out Syria, for instance. I may be naive here, but it still strikes me that there are better ways to deal with Hizbollah -- ways which encourage democracy, and kill as few people as possible, and a lot fewer than have died so far.
Dave considers Dr Phyllis Margaret Starkey, former leader of Oxford City Council, and Labour MP for Milton Keynes South West since 1997 whom he usually agrees with. (BTW Dave, 9 times out of 10 is about as good a strike rate as you're going to get for agreement with anyone.)

[She is b]ordering on the irrational. Israel had, according to Dr Starkey, unleashed a "blitzkrieg - there is no other way of describing it." Eh? Is there really no other way of describing it? Did the coalition in the 1990 Gulf War unleash a "blitz-krieg? "Many people in Israel," Dr Starkey continued, in almost complete error, "are prepared to say that their government are acting disproportionately, so why will not this government do so?"

I think Dr Starkey's choice of Blitzkrieg falls into that grey area of terms you wouldn't use yourself, but it's still over-sensitive to take exception to. Blitzkrieg is associated with the Third Reich, so it's hardly diplomatic to use the term here, but it is more or less correct by Wikipedia's definition.

The generally accepted definition of blitzkrieg operations include the use of maneuver rather than attrition to defeat an opponent, and describe operations using combined arms concentration of mobile assets at a focal point, armour closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery and close air support assets.

This is pretty close to an objective description of Israel's opening gambit. I'm less sure about Gulf War I. IIRC, the 'focal point' part was certainly missing, and there wasn't any element of surprise (mentioned elsewhere on the Wikipedia page). The term 'many' when used with regard to populations is almost always used, in Dave's phrase, "in almost complete error". However, assuming that Dr Starkey means something like 'a sizeable fraction of those who have expressed an opinion' she is surely correct. Thanks to teh magic of teh interwebs, here's the results of a poll published in the noted Israel-hating newspaper Haaretz last Sunday.

The poll, conducted Wednesday [ie 9 August, DW] and yesterday [12 August, DW] among 570 Israelis, also revealed a marked decline in support for the government, and particularly for Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
... Only 39 percent of the respondents backed the cabinet's decision to expand the ground operation. Another 26 percent favored continuing the fighting in its current form, but stepping up diplomatic efforts, while 28 percent advocated an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic agreement.

I believe, in short, that Dr Starkey is fully in the right here. 'Many' people, certainly enough to swing an election, seem to believe that the Israeli government is wrong.
All in all, Dave should worry about the 9 out of 10 things he agrees with Dr Starkey on, because his opinion of her by the time he finishes is pretty low, and she obviously couldn't count on his vote if he were a constituent.

In fact, judging from her speeches, the world consists entirely of Britain, Israel and the Occupied Territories.
... Ditto her sojourn in Iran, where she seems to have failed to gain any substantial impression whatsoever.

Finally Dave ends on his usual irritating note.

I am not saying this is right; I am saying quite the opposite. But in a sense it doesn’t matter, because the fact is still the fact. People who should have been supporting Israel’s right of self-defence have instead opposed it.

"Supporting" here means of course, "talking support" it doesn't mean sending money, or lobbying or anything active at all. That aside, I've Dave does his version of the three cups and one pea trick here. This looks a lot to me like saying that because I oppose making human pyramids out of naked prisoners, intimating people with attack dogs, and water-boarding, I must be against the rights of the Coalition troops to take any prisoners at all. This is not so. As always, I don't speak for anyone else here, but I don't oppose Israel's right to self-defence, only to their methods, which I find both morally objectionable and strategically idiotic.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Suffice to say

Following on from a discussion of this excellent stock phrase in our comments, I hereby offer to donate £50 to the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust if David Aaronovitch uses the phrase "suffice to say" in a published column over the next three months (google seems to suggest that he is an S2S virgin at present). There will also be considerable kudos to the first reader to spot it if he does, and perhaps an actual prize although I should probably sort out the seal adoption thing from our last joke competition first before shooting my mouth off about prizes any more.

Update: a million thankyous, Sonic (from comments)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Nick descends further into madness

I confess to being at a bit of loss concerning how to address Nick's latest rant, such is its incoherence. Suffice to say that I’m inclined to agree with one thing he says, namely that “modern technology allows every fool with an internet connection to broadcast his or her ravings”. The ostensible focus of his attack is people who believe in a global Zionist conspiracy. Well, we’re all against nutters. But Nick seems to believe that the denial that there is an international Islamist conspiracy is equivalent to the assertion that the Zionists are behind everything. So Nick has become a nutter too.

Just to make some elementary points: it is surely possible to believe both that there are Islamist fanatics out there, determined on murdering people, and to believe that governments often time “terror alerts” for political reasons and seek to exploit public anxiety about terrorism in order to get more power for themselves. The latest batch of arrests may well have thwarted an Al-Qaeda gang (or some Al-Qaeda wannabes) at the point where they were about to murder thousands of air travellers. We have to take the government’s word for it, for the time being. But past experience – the ricin plot, the people who were supposed to be plotting to explode themselves at football matches – suggests that it may all turn out to be less than originally advertised. And did Home Secretary John Reid know about the plot when he made a speech calling for an extension of powers the day before the alert? Or did the security services come to him some time after he made the speech and tell him that it had become urgent to act without delay? Needless to say, one can entertain private doubts on such matters without thinking for a moment that there might be an international Zionist conspiracy.

So what of the international Islamist one. Here Nick wants to have it both ways. In response to Adam Curtis’s “Power of Nightmares” and its denial that there a “uniquely powerful hidden organisation” behind global terror, Nick remarks sarcastically “This would be news to the people of the Philippines, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.” Ok, so let’s take Somalia. What does Nick himself say about Somalia in this very same column? “An al-Qaeda style militia has taken power in a putsch in Somalia.” So it isn’t true then, according to Nick himself, that AQ is behind events in Somalia. It would, in fact, be news to the Somalis if they were. What has happened is merely that a movement that resembles AQ in some aspects of its theology has taken power (or partly, anyway). In fact, Nick could have reached for a much better analogy for Somalia, he could have mentioned not AQ – a conspiratorial organization composed of middle-class people in small cells (rather like the Red Army Fraction, sociologically speaking) – but the Taliban. Like the Taliban, the Islamic Courts Movement of Somalia enjoys a measure of popular support because it promises to bring order where previously there was warlordism. Now granted, there’s a downside. No football, music, education for girls etc. But the ICM at least promise a future where life is not nasty, brutish and short (or less so, anyway).

Nick is wrong, then and Adam Curtis is broadly right. When George W. Bush tells us, Nick-style, that “The current crisis is part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East” he’s talking nonsense, lumping together sociologically diverse groups, with very different political agendas. The trouble is, of course, that this “war of civilizations” stuff is self-fulfilling. If Nick and George wage war everywhere against what they perceive as a unitary phenomenon then people trying to persuade young men in Walthamstow to blow themselves (and others) to pieces have a good deal of their work done for them. There’s “us” and there’s “them” and “they” are waging war against “us” everywhere. Simple innit?

What the Hell is Nick on about?

Nick has invented a new style of opinion column. It's based on the famous interrogation technique "Good cop, bad cop." In that, one interviewer harangues, insults, and threatens and the other interupts him with gentler conversation and acts sympathetic. They take turns at this. Nick has produced a column which mixes a degree of sense, percipience, and intelligence with one which could have been written by WC Fields after a week long lush but without the jokes or the sparkle.

He starts in 'bad cop' voice. Newspapers get emails from nutters. AFAIK, newspapers have always had letters from nutcases. They used to be in green ink and from Tunbridge Wells, and papers used to print them. Emails make the process easier. The ink never runs out, you never have to go to buy a stamp. Otherwise, this is not news.

But then Nick drops the 'we invited you in for a chat' pretence, and drops into nasty cop first act. "Since modern technology allows every fool with an internet connection to broadcast his or her ravings, I would be making too much of the emails if they didn't exemplify a wider culture of denial." Elsewhere on tehgrauniad CiF site is Sunny Hundal asks Why do newspapers hate us bloggers?. Not that you need that when Nick all but admits that, prior to Tim Berners-Lee, only certain privileged fools could broadcast their ravings. (I agree with Sunny's point 4 -- which Sunny doesn't -- that the glut of comment will cause Nick's Market value to fall.)

It holds that the threat is manufactured, and when exploding bombs or the arrest of alleged bombers shows that it is not, it insists that the 'root cause' must be the behaviour of Western governments rather than the logic of a fascistic ideology.

I am, I admit, in the band of people Nick is talking about, so I am somewhat partisan here. However, the threat may be manufactured by government or it may not. Are you with me so far? Exploding bombs (unless you go for the full conspiracy plate) would show that it is not. The 'arrest of alleged bombers' does no such thing. Ahem.

If you think our correspondents are isolated crackpots, consider how deep into the mainstream their ideology goes. In a shameful contrast to every mass leftish movement of the last two centuries, the wave of protest against George W Bush has not produced one new radical leader of moral and intellectual distinction. Its sole global figure is Michael Moore, a propagandist so lacking in scruple that he presented Saddam's Iraq as a happy land where blushing lovers got married and merry children flew kites.

I'd like a list of these "radical leader[s] of moral and intellectual distinction". As I'm more or less an anarchist, I'm not fond of leaders. Who is he thinking of? Josef Stalin? Mao? Neil Kinnock? Harold Wilson? Tony Benn? Arthur Scargill? Can you name the leaders of the draft card burners during Vietnam? The only one I can thing of is Abbie Hoffman. That's one of the differences between Nick and me. He sees people as these moral agents for good or bad; stalking the world in white hats or black. I just see a lot of blokes, and assume everyone is out for themselves. The thing is, Iraq was an is a "land where blushing lovers got married and merry children flew kites." So was Nazi Germany. So is Tibet under the Chinese boot. So is Zimbabwe. The point was they weren't being bombed, which can really ruin your day.

Iraq wasn't a happy land (the only one I know is far, far away, where they something something, something all day). But it didn't have this.

"This is how staggeringly pointless the killing in Iraq is getting: shepherds in the rural western Baghdad neighborhood of Gazalea have recently been murdered, according to locals, for failing to diaper their goats. Apparently the sexual tension is so high in regions where Sheikhs take a draconian view of Shariah law, that they feel the sight of naked goats poses an unacceptable temptation. They blame the goats.
I've spent nearly a year here, on more than a dozen visits since the early days of the war, and that seemed about as preposterous as Iraq could get until I heard about the grocery store in east Baghdad. The grocer and three others were shot to death and the store was firebombed because he suggestively arranged his vegetables.
I didn't believe it at first. Firebombings of liquor stores are common, and I figured there must've been one next door. But an Iraqi colleague explained matter-of-factly that Shiite clerics had recently distributed a flyer directing groceries how to display their food.
Standing up a celery stalk near a couple of tomatoes in a way that might - to the profoundly repressed - suggest an aroused male, is now a capital offense."

Well, they won't be broadcasting reruns of Ester Rantzen on That's Life. Saddam persecuted the Shi'tes. When I read things like that, I begin to know why.

Nevertheless, [The Power of Nightmares] was feted at the Cannes Film Festival and praised as 'intelligent and original' by the governors of the BBC, who proved in the process the truth of George Orwell's maxim: 'Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them.'

Naturally, Nick has never believed anything stupid in his life (like David Horowitz's Front Page magazine might be capable of an interview).

Then up pops nice cop.

Meanwhile, many politicians and civil servants will never forgive the law lord, Lord Hoffmann, ... [Hoffmann's] is a principled position that I believe in, but one which honourable people oppose for honest reasons.

We've gone from 'everyone who disagrees with me is a stupid twat' to "we know you're reasonable fellows, how about a nice cup of tea and we can sort this thing out?"

When even law lords sound as if they write their judgments in green ink, I think it is fair to say that a deep malaise has taken hold.

Oh, it's the bad cop again. What does he mean even? There's a malaise, and it's taken hold. "They're mad, mad I tell you, mad" said Nick, declaring his sanity. Of the lefties here, I'm the most conservative, with a view of history somewhere between Ecclesiastes' 'The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be' and 'plus ca change, plus ca meme chose' with a fair bit of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" when I feel like it. Nick seems to think Law Lords are notable for lucidity, but in the words of the wise man "Everyone's crazy but me and thee, and I'm not sure about thee". (Just to continue the cop theme, that was Starsky. Or possibly Hutch.)

Now he loses it.

In part, it is popular because it corresponds with everyday life in the rich world. Al-Qaeda has killed thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan and an al-Qaeda style militia has taken power in a putsch in Somalia (a country, I suspect, we will soon be hearing a lot more from). But although there is an 'al-Qaeda in Iraq', there is no such organisation as 'al-Qaeda in Europe'. Since 2001, Europe's experience of Islamist violence has consisted of the Madrid and London bombings, both crimes against humanity, certainly, but not elements of a sustained campaign. There have been scares, but many of these have been false alarms - and a death knell in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes.

So the 'death knell' (the what? ask not who death knells for, it knells for thee) of Jean Charles de Menezes is al-Qaeda's fault. This isn't at all like the people Nick's criticising who allege that terrorist activity here is caused by Coalition forces doing something or other in Iraq. al-Qaeda simply isn't this great army that Nick alleges it is. I do like 'an al-Qaeda style militia' -- so *not* al-Qaeda then. al-Qaeda in Iraq still seems like nonsense. There are a lot of fundamentalist nutters in Iraq, but they're not being controlled by Osama bin Laden from his cave or undersea volcano or moonbase.

If they think about fascism at all, the majority of people in rich countries believe it died in the Forties.

Really?. That's a bit Fascist isn't it?

The idea that people will murder without limit for the impossible dream of an imperial caliphate still makes no sense to them.

True. It makes no sense to me. Nor does people murdering without limit trying to advance into or hold a line a few miles of mud wide which ran between the North Sea and the Alps in the second decade of the last century. "These Germans are crazy." (Obelix.) "Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." (Nietzsche.)

Within living memory, Europeans murdered without limit in the name of the equally impossible dreams of the 1,000-Year Reich and New Roman Empire, but modern Europeans can't see that the fevers they incubated have infected others.

No, I don't get this. There's much I find unpleasant about fundamentalist Islam. The sexism, the homophobia, the anti-Semitism. The Nazis had all these too. (So did the British Establishment at the time.) But all three are sanctioned in the Koran, and the first two in the Bible (as is the third in the bits of the New Testament Mel Gibson is familiar with). I don't think they were 'infected' by Fascism. (I also can't see how they could have been.) Nor can I see what's different about wanting to kill without limit for a caliphate rather than for Jesus (or whatever the Crusades were about) or whatever motives led to the genocide of Native Americans. People, en masse, are generally unpleasant fuckers. Ideology is an excuse. It's not a cause.

I should have something to say about "The arms lobby imperils are troops", but "WTF?" is all I can manage.

There's no Ming Campbell dig this week, and Nick missed Lembit's airline. (Come on Nick, planes, terrorists, Liberal Democrats. Join the dots, willya?) But there is one at David Cameron.

Last week, Cameron had the groovy idea of encouraging, but not forcing, firms to install showers so employees could chill after cycling to work. Unfortunately, last week also saw interest rate rises and the threat of mass murder over the Atlantic.

So ... interest rates rise, and firms can't install showers. There's the threat of mass murder over the Atlantic. So take the bus. Of course.

Hippy politics prospers in times of peace and plenty, when the quality of life matters more than making a living or staying alive. In hard times, it is as out of place as a clown at a funeral.

Hippy politics.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What the hell is Aaro on about?

Can anyone make head nor tail of this? It looks like about a quarter of it is just trying to say "Communists are in general really nasty people", in which case takes one to know one.

But the other three quarters are very definitely trying to suggest that the jury's verdict was perverse and that Sheridan was in fact a philanderer, pervert and cokehead (I think that those were the matters at issue in the trial, I haven't been following it closely).

I presume that the bit where Aaro explains how this is completely different from the Today program asking questions about John Prescott got cut for reasons of space, which is a shame. Also not clear to me why Aaro's pretence at merely covering the minutiae of the Scottish libel bar is any less ludicrous a figleaf for prurience than the public interest in Prescott's mistress. The distinction between the Times and a pointless scandal-sheet does not need to be made however.

Maryam Namazie in the news

Regular readers will remember a period when Maryam Namazie of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran was nearly as ubiquitous in Nick's columns as Harry Fletcher. I had idly wondered why she never signed the Euston Manifesto (oh my god they are soliciting essays about Lebanon and having a meeting about Darfur! The Darfur one has a load of Rwanda experts but seemingly nobody who knows about Sudan! I must get my entries in for both!). The answer is apparently that she (and possibly the WCPI) have been working on their own "Third Camp Manifesto" against "US militarism and Islamic Terrorism". It rather explicitly makes a point of drawing moral equivalence between the two:

"In the conflict between the state terrorism of the West and Islamic terrorism, the civilised world is not represented. Both sides of this conflict are reactionary and inhuman. They must be driven back."

It is all rather bracing. I thought about signing it but then I remembered a) I don't sign manifestoes and b) the WCPI have systematically alienated nearly allof their mates over the years and there is presumably some reason for that.

I seem to remember that Nick was rather proud of his association with Maryam. (Looking through the archives, I find that it was actually her that was the subject of his original coinage of the phrase "The Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time"). I also seem to remember that he was rather rude (which is to say, very rude) about people who had opinions about the Middle East but lacked such authentic friends. Will he be signing the Third Camp Manifesto?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The surprising uses of aircraft carriers

I complained last week about Nick's silence about Lebanon. Well Nick has spoken. Sort of. He tells us that the "awkward question" facing those who want an immediate ceasfire is what might happen if the Iranians order Hezbollah to start fighting again. Thus does Nick reveal his understanding of the situation: it is all a plot that was made in Teheran. Well maybe it is. Alternatively, perhaps the Israelis were just itching for an excuse to have a go at Hezbollah? And maybe the awkward question facing those who oppose an immediate ceasefire -- such as Nick? -- is all those dead bodies piling up. But I tend to be naive and sentimental about that kind of thing.

However, anyone reading Nick's opening paragraph and hoping for some words of wisdom about the Middle East will have been disappointed. The whole thing was just a peg on which to hang one of Nick's favourite themes: purchasing by Whitehall. This was the Defence-specific version, but the general outlines are familiar from many Nick columns. Not that Nick is all wrong about that, but those of us who have taken on the burden of reading his thoughts week after week know exactly how it is going to go.

I did learn one or two nuggets though. Such as that the principal function of aircraft carriers is to protect ground troops from suicide bombers. I think that's it.

Apart from that, there's not much to report. The seventies weren't all bad, and a lot of people want to leave Britain because of high house prices. On the other hand, as Nick has complained in earlier columns, a lot of people want to come here too. How will they afford to live? With housing so much cheaper in Riga and Krakow they must be crazy! Mustn't they?

Update, by bruschettaboy. There is a lot of confusion in there about matters military and I think Nick might have taken on a few things rather too uncritically. For example:

The Cold War ended in 1989 and since then Britain hasn't fought an adversary with an air force worthy of the name.

In fact, the RAF spent most of the 1990s making a significant contribution to the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Kurdistan. In general, no-fly zones are likely to be a big part of the apparatus of humanitarian interventionism (one could quite likely have helped a lot in Darfur) and the Eurofighter is really quite well-adapted to this task.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hassan Nasrallah turns his back on the Oscars

Nick in the Standard (no link, as yet):

I can't help but feel sorry for Mel Gibson. If only he had joined the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah rather than an ultra-reactionary Catholic sect, his views on a world Jewish conspiracy would have done him no harm. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, declared that if Jews "all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide", yet Channel 4 News bends over backwards to make excuses for him.

The OED:

harm (v): To do harm (to); to injure (physically or otherwise); to hurt, damage.

Is it just tediously literal-minded of me to point out that the military resources of Israel are currently aimed at blowing Hassan Nasrallah to bits, that they've blown lots of similar characters to bits in the past, and that they're not trying to kill Mel Gibson? The odious Mel, on the other hand, after a few ritual efforts at therapy and public abasement will continue to earn prodigious amounts of money in Hollywood. Despite the attractions of excuses being made for you on Channel 4, I think the smart career advice for repulsive anti-semites is to make the Hollywood rather than the Hezzywood choice.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

please don't make me do this

I am currently listening to the Cohen/Gove interview and it is excruciating. The whole thing has been recorded with a horrible dead echo and neither man is known for his clear diction. Nick is saying "achoffle cofloffle offle", to which Gove replies "nyee nyaaar nyaaaaadebum nyarrr". It is like Nick is trying to do the interview while eating Kleenex and Michael Gove has just been told that he won't get a bike for Christmas unless he eats a plate of sprouts.

Highlight from the first minute is that Nick introduces Michael Gove by saying that he has just finished his own book on the subject, but that Gove's "Celsius 7/7" is covering the same ground much better. Nick can't possibly mean this literally; I have now read half of Gove's book and it is fucking terrible.

Do I really have to do this? I know I said I would but will you let me off?

Dave Gets Anti-Semitic Mail

Here, from someone called "bfrank" apparently. I am not a big fan of this - it seems to me to be lazy blogging and there is always the danger that you're implicitly claiming that what you print is representative of what you get. But, interesting withal as it's a pretty clear statement of Aaro's relationship with the Jewish religion. I had a half-baked theory that he might have been idly thinking of developing more of an interest in his Jewish heritage about six months ago as part of the general "get fit, lose weight, change job, sort my life out" kick he appeared to be on, but looking through my archives I have to confess I can't work out why I thought this at the time. I think maybe one of my mates who is a bit like Aaro was doing something similar, or maybe it was just that he started publishing the JC columns on his blog.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

If Dave cares about dead children, the terrorists have won

Latest in a series. It is of course terrible that those kids got killed, but not so terrible that it should stop happening, is the blunt message here. As far as I can see, Dave is to the right of Norman Geras here as, for all the crocodile tears, his message appears to be that the Qana bombing was acceptable collateral damage, it's all the fault of those Hezbollah, so we must gird our loins, harden our hearts and perhaps stop watching the news until ... well, until "the job has been done". Hey let me tell you what a goddamn anti-Semite that Nasrallah is!

We're all hypocrites about enemy life versus our own. Let me explain something about that UN post. Hezbollah were indeed sheltering behind it and potting at the Israelis[1]. A commander in this situation has two alternatives: he can charge the Hezbollah position with ground troops and attempt to overcome it, or he can use artillery and call in airstrikes. The first alternative is more costly in terms of his own troops' lives, the second is more likely to kill the UN observers. The law of war, in a lot of circumstances, obliges a commander to protect noncombatants even at the expense of taking more casualties. Somebody chose not to do that. The UN observers, including the Canadian who sent that email, died because Hezbollah hid behind them. But they also died because someone decided that their lives were not worth risking IDF soldiers.

And this rather generalises; Hezbollah had been sending rockets over the border for years and nobody thought it was worth bombing dairies and strafing minivans for. Basically all of the casualties of this war, became casualties because somebody decided that this war was an acceptable price to pay to rescue two kidnapped soldiers. Regard for civilian life, how are ya. Our own side's decisions always seem more humane to us, but that's because they're ours.

There is no asymmetry in demanding that both sides abstain from war crimes. This is a minimum standard, not a special one, it is much lower than any special standard of humane or even sane behaviour and Dave appears not to be respecting it (as Norman says, "Qana is a tragedy, but it is not enough to call it a tragedy" (emphasis added). The reason why everyone wants a ceasefire is that this is a war which has no war aims; there is no non-genocidal way in which it can be won and no reason why it should ever have been started in anythign like its current form. This is "the new orthodoxy" because it is transparently true. Dave is a fine one to talk about other people's cartoon view of reality with "Bad Blair" and "Murdering Olmert" when his own point of view appears to be that it is worth two hundred dead Lebanese a week to not let "AntiSemitic Nasrallah" have bragging rights.

How can you argue with the impulse to not do something pointless and expensive which kills people? Perhaps the only way to get rid of this temptation is to yield to it.

update I suppose at least kudos to Dave for at least having the balls to explicitly make the argument that a lot of Decents appear to be shying away from.

update update check out Captain Cabernet's fantastic spot on Dave's source in the comments.

[1]Of course, logically, it does not follow from the fact that the bombs which did not kill those four observers were not aimed at them, that the one which did kill them also was not. But for the sake of argument here.